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France has a population of almost 70 million people and lies at the geographical, ideological and historical heart of Europe. A strong and proud nation, France has bequeathed to the world a wealth of treasures, including great philosophers, scientists and artists. Today, the country is at the heart of the European project, but remains strongly attached to its culture and values.

Whilst populism has taken many world powers by storm, France bucked the trend during the latest elections, propelling its youngest ever president, Emmanuel Macron, to the position of commander in chief of the French nation. A fascinating country combining old and new, France has for a long time been the most visited country of the world; a tribute to its rich and diverse culture.

Located in Western Europe, France is a democratic Republic with more than 67 million inhabitants (according to 2017 estimates). Stretching over 632,834 km², including 551,695 km² in the metropolis, it is surrounded by Italy, Spain, Andorra, Germany and Switzerland. France is divided into 27 regions and 101 departments. Beyond its European borders, the country also includes French departments, overseas territories and regions.

Overseas Departments and regions:

  • Guadeloupe
  • Martinique
  • Guyana
  • Reunion Island
  • Mayotte

Overseas Communities:

  • Saint Pierre and Miquelon
  • Saint Barthelemy
  • Saint-Martin
  • Wallis and Futuna
  • French Polynesia
  • New Caledonia, for its part, is a former Overseas Territory which now has a special status.

France is nicknamed the “Hexagon” because the mainland takes is shaped by six sides. Paris (also known as the “City of Lights”) is its capital city, while Bordeaux, Lille, Lyon, Marseille, Nice, Nantes, Strasbourg, Toulon and Toulouse are its major cities. France has one of the highest GDPs in the world, and ranks in the top 30 for GDP per capita. France is a semi-presidential representative democratic republic and has a strong tradition of reinventing its political systems, a testament to the strong democratic principles ingrained in the country. Before the introduction of the Euro, France used to deal in French francs. Nowadays, some people still speak in francs with nostalgia. In fact, one of the candidates to the latest presidential elections ran part of her campaign on a return to the Franc. Since the French Revolution era, the country is guided by national motto “Liberty, Equality and Fraternity”, which adorns official documents and public insignia. The attachment to the motto is very strong, especially in recent times which have seen attacks on the secular traditions of the French republic.

France's economy

France is one of the economic powerhouses of the world with an estimated GDP of 2,121 billion euros. The national economy is mainly based on the services sector which employs almost 70% of the active population. Agriculture also makes a significant contribution to the economy and France is one of the leaders in the European Union in terms of agricultural production. France is also the worldwide leader in terms of viticulture and is a large producer of wine and spirits despite increasing competition from a range of newcomers. Despite the fundamental strengths of the French economy, the country has suffered from severe unemployment and hasn't produced a balanced budget for some years. France is also heavily indebted, and the state of the French economy became a major issue during the latest elections.

If you are looking to work in France, it is best to focus on sectors which require highly skilled individuals. Because of the high rates of unemployment, it is difficult to move to France in order to carry out low-skilled work, unless one holds an EU passport. Some areas which are potentially interesting for expatriates include new technologies, research, finance and insurance, tourism and luxury, agrifood, energy, aerospace, automotive, construction, chemical industry, railway, aviation, pharmaceutics, cosmetics, etc.

Gastronomy in France

French cuisine is world famous and often (and rightly) associated with luxury, sophistication and finesse. Each region has its own specialties and a culinary exploration of France is one exciting task you can set yourself upon moving to the country. Did you know, for example, that there are as many varieties of cheese as there are days in a year? Whilst the French are deeply attached to their cuisine, the country also hosts many international restaurants, especially due to the presence of expatriate communities and to the cosmopolitan nature of its population. This is particularly true in the larger cities.

History and culture of France

France has a rich and diverse history, with many significant milestones which have seen themselves transformed into Hollywood blockbusters and larger than life characters. Marie Antoinette, the French kings, Napoleon, Charles de Gaulle are only some of the names which have defined and shaped the history of this great nation. French history dates back to the 5th century when the French fought the Romans after which the nation built up a formidable historical heritage, remnants of which are still very visible today. Over the years, France has done an excellent job at preserving its great historical and cultural legacy through its cathedrals, museums and other monuments.

For would-be expatriates

France has been protrayed in negative light in foreign media when it comes to strikes and labour disputes. It is in fact true that the French are strongly attached to the rights that they have acquired through centuries of struggle against the powers that be. So while people scoff at strikes, the French enjoy a quality of life which is second to none, whilst being one of the most productive nations in the world.

The legal working week in France is 35 office hours and overtime is paid. Employees are entitled to five weeks of local leave per year, along with the RTT which means “Recovering Working Time” for those who have worked more than 35 hours a week. The French are entitled to a generous social protection system which is essentially based on solidarity, housing benefits and other social advantages which ensure that the weakest sections of society are able to lead decent and fulfilling lives.

If you are moving to France with your children, they will be entitled to free education, unless you prefer to enroll them in a private or an international school. Indeed, as the population of expatriates has grown, more and more schools have mushroomed around the country to cater for international students. The educational system is quite different to Anglosaxon models and it can be daunting for newcomers to adapt to the French education system, both at the secondary level and at university. Nevertheless, France is home to some of the most prestigious academic institutions in the world, including Ecole Polytechnique, HEC Business School, the Ecole National d’Administration (ENA) and INSEAD.

 Useful links:

France Diplomatie
France Official Tourism Portal

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See also

Known as the Pink City, Toulouse attracts not only tourists but also expatriates who wish to live and work in France.
Expats seeking to work in France might want to consider the popular tourist destination Nice, located on the Côte d’Azur in the South of France.
A popular expat destination in the South of France, Marseille has employment opportunities for foreign job-seekers in France.

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